Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Flash #31

THE FLASH #31, November 2017.
Regular cover by Neil Googe.
© DC Comics

Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: Nov. 2017
On-Sale: Sept. 27, 2017
Cover Price: $2.99
Format: Standard, 32 pgs
Variants: 2 covers

“Bloodwork! Finale” (20 pgs)
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artists: Neil Googe (p1-10); 
Gus Vazquez (p11-20)
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
Asst. Ed.: Rebecca Taylor
Editor: Brian Cunningham


A decent battle with an elegant solution, but that's only the front half of the book. The back half then descends into pathos, bathos, and CGI so bad it should join The Rogues Gallery. ***HALF RECOMMENDED***

STORY SUMMARY (spoilers!):
We open directly on the heels of last issue, with a family from Manga-Mouth Central Casting fleeing an Old Testament amount of blood overflowing Central City. Or the buildings could be sprouting giant hemmeroids. It's hard to tell. 

But lucky them, the Flash shows up to save the day, although the evolution of his powers since his exposure to the "negative speed force" renders his abilities unpredictable, and he appears to be creating minor explosions as he runs. Back in the day, a helpful editor's note would have told us when The Flash encountered the negative speed force, but you can't have everything. After all, back in the day, we would have got some sort of an explanation up front as to what was happening. Flash refers to the red streaks that threaten to swallow up all the bystanders as "veins," but it's not at all clear what that means unless you happened to have read last issue. Remember the old adage, boys: Every issue is somebody's first!

We finally get caught up on Page 4 as brand new rogue Bloodwork reveals himself and The Flash gives us a helpful narrative caption explaining who the villain is. It's a standard comic book crutch, of course. The Flash would not really pause at this moment to reflect on the backstory of who he is facing. But this is comics, and I am perfectly willing to allow some deviation from "good writing" for the sake of the artform.

Then Superman and Gorilla Grodd appear and . . . um, no, check that. It's that damn Snickers ad again! Ya know, I hate to keep harping on back-in-the-day, but back in the day we would've had the word "ADVERTISEMENT" printed across the top of any page like this in comics format that was, you know, an ad!

Anyway, Flash and Bloodwork fight, and the latter alludes to the hemophilia condition he sought to cure, accidentally turning himself into Bloodwork instead, but is not explicit. So, while the reader gets an idea the baddie has a beef, maybe even a legitimate one, said reader really has no way of knowing what hero and villain are talking about, at least without having read the previous issue. So, that's helpful. 

But then, as Bloodwork gets more agitated, he mutates into a more grotesque (and let's be honest, more cool looking) version of himself. Although I still want to know where all the blood is coming from. It can't all be his. It's just too much. Hell, it can't be the blood of every person in Central City. It's too much for that, as well. Is Bloodwork somehow manufacturing the blood? If so, from what? Is he drawing it from someplace else? If so, from where? These questions are never answered. We just take it at face value that throwing around this much blood is possible. Also, that colorist Ivan Plascencia probably never wants to see the color red ever again.

Finally, Flash realizes two things, that Bloodwork is essentially the heart at the . . um . . . heart, of a giant circulatory system, although that still doesn't explain where all the blood is coming from, since a hearth pumps blood, it doesn't make it. And, that to stop Bloodwork, he needs actually stop fighting, to calm him down. And the best way to do that, Flash concludes, is to simply stop running and admit that Bloodwork is right, that he is a bad person, one who has told lies and hurt people. He promises to make emends though, and to help Bloodwork find a real cure, presumably for both his hemophilia and his current mutated condition. 

But it's all a ruse and as soon as Bloodwork calms down, Flash muckles on to either side of the villain's head and uses his newfound negative speed force powers to make like a human-sized defibrillator, sending a massive shock though Bloodwork's skull without so mush as the courtesy to yell, "CLEAR!" in warning.

Luckily for The Flash, and the plot, this trick turns Bloodwork back into his human form of Ramsey Rosso. Oddly, rather than take Ramsey direct to jail — not passing Go! and not collecting $200 — a couple of CCPD detectives whose names I forget (not that it's important because they're not given anyway) take time to perp walk Ramey through the crime lab offices and past some really bad computer-rendered backgrounds.

Ramsey at first tries to claim he was just an innocent bystander and not at all the monster Flash was fighting in the streets and apparently destroyed. It looks like Ramsey (whose surname is never mentioned, so you might presume it's Ramsey, from the conversation) is about to go free, because Central City I guess does not have a single surveillance camera that caught his transformation. But then Kristen Kramer shows up and ta-daaa, she managed to find Ramsey's "digital fingerprints" on records he dealt with while stealing lab samples to effect his hoped-for hemophilia cure, even though he blew up the records room. 

So, Ramsey goes to jail and Director Singh says he's not going to fire Barry, as seemed likely following the intra-office dustup last issue. Instead, he is going to re-assign him to the crime scene preservation unit at Iron Heights Penitentiary. Now, I'm not sure what use a prison has for a crime scene preservation unit. That seems a definite CSI thing that would be run out of Singh's office. But such is the case, and, just for good measure, and to create future romantic tension, Singh says he's sending Kristen right along with Barry to his new assignment. This is a revolting development Kristen is not at all happy about and she storms off. 

I'm not entirely certain if Kristen is still an intern or a full-fledged CCPD employee at this point. But if she's an intern, she's probably about a decade younger than Barry. Also, don't interns generally work under pretty strict agreements? Can Singh really just ship her off to an entirely different department she did not sign up for?

But no worries for Barry. He calls out a weak, "Sorry," after Kristen, but then wanders outside, where he moons over Iris, who is conducting man-on-the-street interviews in front of more terrible computer modeling. He reaches a decision, deciding he needs to spend more time focusing on the civilian side of his life, when the new Kid Flash shows up to remind Barry that he and Iris are still "on a break." 

Barry then tries to give Wally his Flash ring, saying he himself no longer deserves it. I'm not really sure what the ring has to do with the price of tea inside the Speed Force, but apparently the transfer is, in Barry's mind, at least, symbolic of a decision to retire as The Flash until he can learn to control his new negative-Flash powers. But Wally poo-poos that idea, saying that since Flash trained him, he'll now help train the Flash. I don't know what makes Wally an expert in the negative speed force, but there you are.

Heroes: The Flash, Kid Flash (Wally West v.2); Villains: Bloodwork (2nd app.); Supporting Characters: cop 1 (not named), cop 2 (not named), CCPG Crime Lab Director David Singh, CCPD Crime Lab employee Kristen Kramer, Iris West (cameo), Iron Heights Warden Gregory Wolfe (mention only)

City: Central City; Specific Places: CCPD Crime Lab offices

Technology: None

THE FLASH #31, November 2017.
Alt. cover by Howard Porter.
©DC Comics
COVER (8.50/10)
The regular cover by Googe is a good one. Even the casual comics fan knows Flash has a ring in which he stores his costume. But even if not, the image of the ring apparently knocked off The Flash's hand and splashing down into a puddle of red liquid, probably blood, makes it clear that Flash has suffered something more than a minor injury. Even without accompanying copy to sell the story inside, anyone with the merest sense of curiosity will want to flip through the issue to see what happens. 

However, I still say this cover would have been put to better use on the previous issue. That cover featured Bloodwork in his mutated form, which he does not assume until this issue, creating not so much a spoiler as a potentially significant point of confusion last time out.

The alternate cover by Howard Porter has the appropriate level of menace, but really confuses. On it, Bloodwork (his forearms are all we see) is colored grey instead of red, making it look as if Flash is being attacked by a time wraith, or Gorilla Grodd, even. Worse, from Flash's withering complexion, it appears as if his own hard turning black is something Gorilla Bloodwraith (hey! great name for a new rogue!) is doing to him, but I think it's supposed to be Flash's manifestation of the negative speed force. 

PLOT (6.75/10)
The idea that the only way for The Flash to fight Bloodwork is to actually stop trying to fight him is an interesting one. My only issue is that, as was the case last issue with Barry's discovery of just who it was that was stealing crime lab blood samples, this solution comes to our hero way too easily. It's, like, almost literally the first thing he thinks of. 

Worse, the fight only lasts half the issue before we give way to office politics again. Now, don't get me wrong, I do dig the civilian stuff and interplay with the supporting cast, too. But even so, I bought a comic called THE FLASH, not THE WORK AND LOVE LIFE OF BARRY ALLEN, TROUBLED CSI OF MELROSE PLACE. I think we could have covered the same amount of Barry-time over the course of this issue and the last in fewer pages, giving more space last issue to solving the mystery of who Bloodwork is, and more panels this issue to figuring out how to defeat him. 

That said, I am thankful the entire Bloodwork story only lasted two issues, instead of being dragged across four, five, or even six to cover the same amount of plot ground, as is often the norm in modern comics.

SCRIPT (6.25/10)
S'alright. Nothing to write home about, I guess. It's pretty perfunctory. Everybody says what they need to say to advance the story, but for The Flash's admission of his own foibles to Bloodwork, none of it really amuses or excites. 

Now, don't take that to mean I think Williamson is a bad writer. Far from it. After all, this is comics and sometimes just moving the story is exactly what you need to do. And although I have recently dropped THE FLASH from my pull list at my local comics shop, I would seriously consider any new solicitation with Williamson's name attached to it. And that's something I really can't say about most of the young gun writing protégés taking over DC these days. 

Read Time: 8:50
Words: 1,470
Words/Page: 73.50

• “Look what you made me do, Flash! All I wanted to do was protect myself." ~Bloodwork

• "I don't want to fight you, Ramsey."
"Then why do you keep -- attacking me?!" ~ Flash <--> Bloodwork

• "I'm not the hero you think I am. So please believe me when I say I know what you're going through." ~ Flash, to Bloodwork

LAYOUT (7.50/10)
This first half of the book by Googe is quite good. Everything is dynamic, yet still easy to follow. The back half by Vazquez is decent, too. And, although he has almost no super-heroics to play with, being saddled instead with mostly shop talk, Vazquez' layouts are actually a little more varied than Googe's were last issue when he had to draw the same type of scenes. This section would score higher, except that Vazquez' characters really are not grounded in their environment at all, given that they and the backgrounds appear to have been crafted separately and then layered together, leaving me, as a reader, with a terrible disjointed feel.

Panels: 84
Panels/Page: 4.20

ARTWORK (5.75/10)
Googe's civilian characters are sometimes a little too caricatured for my personal tastes, looking a little too manga-riffic. However, I really like how he draws The Flash and support him being the regular artists for as long as he wants to be. However, the fact that somebody else did the second half of this issue leads me to wonder if he can keep the pace of a twice monthly book. Or even a monthly one.

I am not familiar with Vazquez and don't know if what he produced here is his natural art style, or if he was instructed to ape Googe as much as possible. If the latter is the case, good call. I'm old school in that way, believing that the commercial product trumps artistic integrity, and that fill-in artists should always strive to keep it to the "house" style. Although it's fairly obvious when the switch in artists takes place, the changeover is not too jarring. At least not in the design and artistic execution of the characters themselves.

The backgrounds, however, are an entirely different matter. They look as if they were rendered on a computer program, and one designed to run on a Commodore 64, at that. They have absolutely no life or visual interest, in part because it's just the buildings — no sidewalks, no street lamps, to trees or other foliage — just cold stark buildings. Adolph Hitler's cityscapes had more warmth to them. Worse, Vazquez uses more or less the same building and angle a couple of panels in a row, which only serves to highlight the fact hat these are (I'm sure) computer renderings with the characters pasted on top. And paste is the operative word. I don't know if Plascencia colored everything, or if Vazquez provided the backgrounds as we see them and Plascencia only did the characters, but all of the backgrounds are totally washed out, with more brightly-colored people seeming to float around on top of the scenes. Frankly, just about every panel reminded me of one of my old Colorform sets, if you're old enough to remember what Colorforms were. 

EDITING (5.50/10)
So, you know how it is, I hold the editor responsible for all. I can't believe Cunningham thought the mechanical backgrounds in the back half of this issue were a good idea. I also feel he should have worked with Williamson to craft a stronger super-hero story, laying off some of the office stuff and playing up more on the mystery and ultimate solution. 

• Promo/Indicia Page — "Batman: White Knight." Feature on upcoming limited series of the same name.

Usual high quality, although my complaints about the backgrounds in the second half of the book costs points here, given how there are colored. However, on the coloring front, let's give an attaboy to Plascencia. He got marching orders on several pages that are all shades of red, with Flash, Bloodwork, miles of veins, and gallons and gallons of blood. All that could have come off as nearly unreadable mush, but Plascencia does a nice job with tonework, without anything being too obviously a photoshop effect, that some of the scenes, particularly Pages 8-9, are really quite lovely.

Ad Pages: 38.89%
Paid Ads: 22.22%

Snickers comics ad, Superman & Flash v. Gorilla Grodd (2nd page of what had been a two-page ad the in previous months)
• DC Collectibles Harley Quinn statues and bookends (2-page ad) 
• Target department stores exclusive LEGO Ninjago set Garma Mecha Man, tie in to movie of the same name. (inside back cover)
• Warner Archive re-release of the BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM movie from 1993 on DVD and Blu-Ray. (outside back cover) 
MICHAEL CRAY — New Wildstorm imprint ongoing series, starting in October.
• HARLEY AND IVY MEET BETTY AND VERONICA — Limited series co-published with Archie Comics, starting in October.
Sorry, but it's hard for me to give a decent score to a comic that reads in less than nine minutes, even one that's holding the line at $2.99. The thing just is not in my hands long enough to feel anything like worth the money. There really needs to be more meat in this blood sausage, baby.

 Page Value.
(Cover Price/Pages)
Story: 15¢/page
Total: 14¢/page

 Entertainment Value.
(Cover Price/Reading Time)
Story: 34¢/min.
Total: 30¢/min.

Just kind of a meh, frankly. Sure, if you have and intend to keep the previous issue with Rosso's first appearance as Bloodwork, you'll most likely want to hang on to this issue as well. But otherwise, unless (like me) you're a completist, there's not much incentive to hang onto it. It's not that good a story that you'll want to read it again, I don't think. And even if you're hanging onto Issue #30 for speculating purposes, hoping that Bloodwork becomes the next big villain and his first appearance goes through the roof, it'll likely still be 20 years or more, if ever, before this second chapter moves at more than cover price.

Also, meh. Just as last issue did not really kick into gear until halfway through the book, this one is, for all intents, over halfway through. And sure, the solution to the problem appeals to the adult me, but my inner 12-year-old is, like, "Are you shitting me?! Hit him!!" So, yeah. There's that. Then the final half of this issue is just people talking, and office politics, and Barry moping, and Kid Flash being awesome because DC really, really wants you to like the new Kid Flash (even if he was introduced as a punk — he's kind of Reverse-Jason Todd in that way).

The January solicits mention that THE FLASH #39 will be "the 700th tale" of The Flash. I'm not sure how the bean counters at DC reach that number. My guess is that they must be counting annuals and other special issues, as well as the numbering of the Golden Age FLASH series. By my reckoning, the second FLASH issue in January, 2018 should be Legacy #622, if every permutation of an ongoing comic called THE FLASH, excepting only minor revisions in indicia title, had been published as one continuous, sequentially-numbered series.

The math:

THE FLASH, Vol. 1 #105-350 (1959-1985) — 246 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 2 #1-230 (1987-2006) — 230 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 2 #0 (1994) — 1 issue
THE FLASH, Vol. 2 #1,000,000 (1998) — 1 issue
THE FLASH, THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #1-13 (2006-2007) — 13 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 3 #231-247 (2007-2009) — 17 issues
THE FLASH: REBIRTH #1-6 (2009) — 6 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 4 #1-12 (2010-2011) — 12 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 5 #1-52 (2011-2016) — 52 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 5 #0 (2012) — 1 issue
THE FLASH, Vol. 5 #23.1-23.3 (2013) — 3 issues
THE FLASH: REBIRTH, Vol. 2 #1 (2016) — 1 issues
THE FLASH, Vol. 6 #1-39 (2016-2018) — 39 issues

So, I'm really not sure where DC is getting the other 78 issues from. Can't be  FLASH COMICS, as that would add 104. It's right not to count that title anyway, as it was not a Flash comic, but a similarly-titled anthology series that happened to star The Flash. But adding in the Golden Age solo series of The Flash, ALL-FLASH, helps. Let's see if we can't find those additional 78 comics:

ALL-FLASH #1-32 (1941-1947) — 32 issues
ALL-FLASH, Vol. 2 #1 (2007) — 1 issue
BLACKEST NIGHT: THE FLASH #1-3 (2010) — 3 issues
CONVERGENCE: THE FLASH #1-2 (2015) — 2 issues
THE FLASH (Vol. 2) ANNUAL #1-13 (1987-2000) — 13 issues

THE FLASH (Vol. 5) ANNUAL #1-4 (2012-2015) — 4 issues
THE FLASH: FUTURE'S END #1 (2014) — 1 issue
THE FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #1-2 (1998-1999) — 2 issues
THE FLASH: IRON HEIGHTS #1 (2001) — 1 issue
THE FLASH: OUR WORLD'S AT WAR #1 (2001) — 1 issue
FLASH PLUS #1 (1997) — 1 issue
FLASHPOINT #1-3 (1999-200) — 3 issues
FLASHPOINT, Vol. 2 #1-5 (2011) — 5 issues
THE FLASH SECRET FILES #1-3 (1997-2001) — 3 issues

THE FLASH SPECIAL #1 (1990) — 1 issue
THE FLASH: TIME FLIES #1 (2002) — 1 issue
THE FLASH TV SPECIAL #1 (1991) — 1 issue

But that only gets us 74 more issues. Still need four more. So, I guess I don't know where the 700 number comes from.

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